On this page, I'll share my thoughts, and any articles or information I think are of interest. Feel free to use the comments section to join in the discussion!
“Organizations that have bolstered their teams through high-profile free agent acquisitions have been severely limited in the current draft system”
Current CBA Draft Spending Trends
July 28, 2014 by Clint Longenecker
After three drafts under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, spending patterns within the confines of the new draft system are emerging while major league payroll rises.
Bonus pool allotments that trigger steep penalties if surpassed, the loss of future picks, and the reduction in compensation picks have eliminated teams’ ability to spend freely as they desire. Although teams are flush with money, their avenues for spending that money on amateur talent has been put into silos and capped.
Click on the link for the full story
The player’s been traded, so now what happens?
As Major League Baseball’s annual nonwaiver trade deadline nears this week, a front-office executive’s routine trip through his team’s clubhouse can become anything but routine.
“Starting around the last two weeks of July, it gets quieter when I come through the clubhouse,” said Chicago White Sox general manager Rick Hahn.
It’s a feeling that runs through big-contract, high-impact veterans and low-dollar, throw-in prospects. They all know what the July 31 deadline can bring: a new uniform, a new ballpark — a new home. For some, it’s a case of being sprung out of the drudgery of last place and into the heat of a pennant race. For others, the ones going the opposite way in the deal, it’s the reverse. Chase Headley was one of the first to experience the jolt this year.
On Tuesday, the former San Diego Padres veteran was told of his trade to the New York Yankees, arrived in New York’s LaGuardia Airport at 6:30 p.m. from Chicago, where the Padres had been, got to Yankee Stadium shortly after the first pitch, introduced himself to his new teammates in the dugout, and then delivered the walkoff, game-winning hit for the Yankees in an extra-inning victory over Texas.
Beyond the on-field dramatics, though, it takes a well-choreographed, behind-the-scenes effort to send a player overnight (or on the same day) to a new team perhaps a coast away.
Sometimes a player sees the trade coming; other times he doesn’t. Either way, the traded player quickly becomes friends with each team’s traveling secretary. Far more functional than the comedic take offered on “Seinfeld,” the traveling secretary is the one who makes the arrangements to get players into town and integrated into their new work setting.
“Certainly at this time of year, we’re always sensitive to the fact that things can happen very quickly and we have to be ready to react,” said Ben Tuliebitz, Yankees director of team travel and player services. “In the case of Chase, we were very fortunate that the Padres were already in Chicago, and there’s a flight leaving O’Hare for New York basically every hour.”
The Yankees and Padres worked on the Headley trade off and on for about three weeks, and Headley had been aware he was the subject of trade rumors. A similar situation occurred last year with pitcher Jake Peavy, who was sent by the fading Chicago White Sox to the contending Boston Red Sox in a three-team swap that also involved the Detroit Tigers.
Peavy had been through a trade-deadline deal before: He came to Chicago from San Diego in a deal on July 31, 2009. He might find himself on the move again this year. His name was swirling last week as a trade target, so Peavy likely will do as he did in Chicago last summer, when he had his apartment packed up days before the deadline in order to expedite any move out of town.
Because of his veteran status, Hahn kept Peavy steadily informed of his trade negotiations last year. It wasn’t a question of when Peavy would be moved — simply one of where.
“Jake had been here for a long time and was comfortable coming into our office to sit down and ask for a sense of the likelihood of being moved and the handful of clubs that would be interested,” Hahn said.
That type of courtesy is reserved particularly for veterans with no-trade clauses in their contracts or those who hold “10-5” rights after playing 10 years in the majors and five years with their current club, a standing that allows them to block any trade. That was the situation pitcher Ryan Dempster found himself in two years ago. The then-Chicago Cubs pitcher sat in the Cubs’ offices playing the video game Golden Tee while general
manager Jed Hoyer feverishly worked the phones at deadline trying to move him. As the 3 p.m. CT deadline neared, Dempster took a break from Golden Tee to approve a last-minute deal with the Texas Rangers.
But even as many veterans are kept apprised of potential trades, having such a front-row seat to the trade process as Dempster did is much more the exception than the rule. Most teams treat trade negotiations as highly covertoperations.
“In most situations, it isn’t feasible,” Hahn said of involving a player directly in the trade process. “We find it much easier to do our business without public scrutiny. Information could lead to other clubs jumping in, or a team to get cold feet. We keep it as quiet as possible and keep it out of the clubhouse.”
Both teams’ media relations staffs are also closely involved.
Typically, as the two general managers get close to an agreement, the teams’ media departments are alerted in order to begin working on the press releases that will be needed to announce the deal. Once the trade is completed, those staffs work to coordinate what the announcement time will be for both teams. They then finalize the press releases, prep the necessary social media, and ultimately alert both the local and national media to the trade at the agreed-upon announcement time. Then comes a scheduled media conference call or media availability with the acquiring team’s general manager and the newly acquired player. Sometimes this happens within an hour or so, sometimes the next day.
Sometimes, the new player meets the media for the first time in the dugout or clubhouse once he arrives.
It’s often never as smooth as it seems.
“When we acquired Jose Contreras in 2004, it was 15 minutes from the deadline and there had been nothing; no dialogue, no conversation, and we figured we didn’t make a deal,” said Scott Reifert, senior vice president of communications for the White Sox. “Then all of a sudden, the phone rings, and we have the trade and the approval from the commissioner’s office all within a span of 15 minutes. It was amazing to watch that and then scramble to coordinate the announcement.”
Reifert also has a number of draft press releases announcing trades that were never made.
“The general manager gives you a heads up on trades and very often they fall apart,” Reifert said. “I have some doozies of press releases that no one will ever know about.”
■ ■ ■
When Hahn dealt Peavy last year, the veteran right-hander was in Boston within a matter of hours, thanks in part to Ed Cassin, White Sox director of team travel, who made a battery of calls to get the Red Sox their newly acquired pitcher as soon as possible to begin the acclimation into the middle of a pennant race.
Cassin’s first call was to his Red Sox counterpart, Jack McCormick, to brief the club not only on moving logistics but also to give McCormick a sense of the player Boston had just acquired in order to help smooth the transition.
“Just a few questions about Jake and what kind of guy he is,” Cassin said.
Cassin also did the Red Sox a professional courtesy by immediately arranging Peavy’s flight to Boston that night, even though it is the acquiring team’s financial responsibility to get the new player to town.
“We talk all the time,” Cassin said of his familiarity with his traveling secretaryfraternity. “We’re all in the same boat.”
Guided by provisions in MLB’s collective-bargaining agreement, Cassin immediately booked a first-class airline ticket for Peavy on the first available flight, and then billed the Red Sox for the cost.
The players’ agents also are frequently involved in the post-trade logistics, including helping settle personal affairs in the departed city.
“It depends on the player and the situation, but usually we coordinate with the front office, more often the GM or assistant GM rather than the traveling secretary, to make sure that travel arrangements work for our client and to safeguard his rights,” said Greg Genske, a veteran baseball player agent who is executive director of The Legacy Agency and president of its baseball practice.
The CBA allows a player 72 hours to report to a new city, but unless it’s a disgruntled player being sent to the minors, unofficial baseball custom generally calls for the traded player to be in his new uniform that night or the next day.
The acquiring team pays for seven days of hotel housing for the traded player, picking up any outstanding lease payments on the player’s housing in his prior city for the duration of that season, and arranging to ship the player’s car to the new city. After the seven days of hotel housing ends, it is up to the player to handle his own accommodations. Teams often assist with recommendations of local real estate brokers, but some clubs stop short of making any specific housing arrangements for the new player.
“I have a list of Realtors we have used over the years that are baseball friendly,” Cassin said. “But I don’t personally set any housing up. I want the player to feel confident about their pick and I don’t want to be the one in the middle.”
Those housing discussions, however, will vary widely depending on whether the player is a prospect or veteran, whether he’s played in the new market earlier in his career, and whether he’s under a long-term contract or will be a free agent following the season.
“Those kind of conversations really can vary,” Tuliebitz said. “When we got [second baseman Alfonso] Soriano just before deadline last year, he had already been here, and knew what he wanted to do. Another player who’s new and only might be here the rest of the season might just say, ‘I’m just going to stay at a hotel.’”
When the newly acquired player shows up in his new team’s clubhouse, he will find his new uniform hanging in his locker and will get an early visit from the general manager.
“That first day is a whirlwind in meeting me and the coaches and the PR people and just letting them know they can reach out for any assistance to help get settled,” Hahn said. “Many of these guys have been through it before and know what it entails. We just try to make it as easy as possible off the field.”
“[Tuesday] was kind of crazy all the way around, but once things settle down over the next day or so, I’ll have a chance to sit down with Chase and figure out what his housing options are,” he said. “We try to be a full-service operation here.”
JUL 25, 2014
In the ninth inning of the New York Yankees’ 2-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on July 1, Brian McCann1 watched Grant Balfour’s fastball sail over the outside corner of the plate for a called third strike. As he walked dejectedly back to the dugout, McCann’s 2014 batting average sank to .220, the lowest seasonal average he’d carried in July at any point during his 10-year major league career.
A few days later, Terry Pendleton, McCann’s old hitting coach with the Atlanta Braves, delivered a theory as to why the catcher, who signed a five-year, $85 million contract with the Yankees last November, was struggling at the plate this season: He can’t handle the burden of expectations that come with playing in New York City.
This is a refrain we hear often whenever a player struggles in a huge (usually northeastern U.S.) market. The theory is that a rabid fan base and an overzealous sports media corps can cripple a player’s confidence and change his play. Based on a LexisNexis search of news reports, this happens almost exclusively in New York (and for the Yankees more than the Mets) and in Boston, with the occasional reference to Chicago and Philadelphia.2 The pressure to win in those cities can be staggering, but the “can’t handle the pressure” argument is laced with self-flattery: By linking a player’s production to the weight of external expectations, fans and the media presume they have significant power over how well he performs.
It’s easy to write this off as little more than a delusion. McCann certainly seems determined to prove that he can handle New York, that the narrative is nothing but manufactured nonsense. He’s produced a .352/.379/.463 triple-slash line since his batting average reached its nadir against the Rays earlier this month.
And yet, when I ran the stats on players like McCann, I was surprised to see that there may be something to the whole idea of big-market pressure affecting play, at least for batters. (Pitchers, not so much.)
To start my data work, I compared performance relative to expectation. Statistically speaking, expectation is best measured by one of the various and sundry projection systems sabermetricians have developed.3 The projection method most adaptable to the task at hand also happens to be the simplest one: Tom Tango’s Marcel system, because it’s open-source and can be customized endlessly. While Marcel is named for a monkey because it barely requires a primate’s intelligence to operate, it performs roughly as well as far more sophisticated setups.
A Marcel-like approach4 can generate predicted runs above average numbers for every player’s seasons going back to 1985; each is a credible estimate of what the player could have been expected to do before the season started. Adjust those numbers for playing time (so as not to punish players for injuries), compare them to the player’s actual runs above average marks, and we have a way to assess whether a player lived up to statistical expectations.5
These differences between actual and expected performance are the kinds of statistical disparities that theories like “he just can’t cut it in New York” are attempting to explain. If we believed that it was truly more difficult to perform to expectation in a city like New York, then we’d expect a very specific subset of player — a new acquisition with a high salary, like McCann — to perform worse in the aforementioned pressure-packed cities than in comparable destinations with more relaxed reputations. I used Los Angeles, Dallas (the Texas Rangers’ media market), San Francisco/Oakland and Atlanta as the control group,6 and then compared how batters and pitchers did in each set of cities.
When I weighted the results toward more highly paid stars,7 the average batter in our subset of newcomers saw his actual performance undershoot his projected performance by 1.9 runs when playing for teams in New York, Chicago, Boston or Philadelphia. Some notable deficits included Albert Belle underperforming by 47.5 runs after joining the Chicago White Sox in 1997, Chuck Knoblauch falling short by 39.3 runs as a new member of the New York Yankees in 1998,8 and J.D. Drew missing by 24.1 runs for the Boston Red Sox in 2007.
For comparison, here are the batters who did best in these high-pressure markets:
Meanwhile, the cohort playing for teams in Atlanta, Dallas, LA or the Bay Area averaged a -0.4 run difference between expectation and reality, or 1.5 runs better than those in the “high-pressure” cities.9 Score one for the idea that fan and media scrutiny play a role in player performance.
Then again, don’t tell that to the highly paid hurlers who joined teams in cities that are supposedly tougher to play in. Over the same period, that subset of pitchers prevented 4.5 more runs than would have been expected from their projections, while their counterparts in the more “easygoing” environs saved 3.2 more runs on average.10 Here are the top five overachieving pitchers in our four high-pressure cities:
For every John Lackey who struggled upon joining a team like the Red Sox, there was a Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling or Roy Halladay who thrived in a tough market. And LA-area fans will remember the likes of Aaron Sele, Jason Schmidt, Jon Garland and Bartolo Colon, all of whom struggled upon landing with LA-area teams.
It’s hard to know what to make of all this. The conventional wisdom holds that pitchers would be more affected by added pressure in a new, rabid city, since they’re the players who have to stand alone on the mound and think about the enormity of throwing before, say, a packed Fenway Park. But, statistically, hitters had the more difficult adjustment to life under the microscope. This may be due to factors beyond fan devotion and an intense media climate; for instance, there may be something about the types of players teams like the Red Sox and the Yankees tend to acquire in free agency that is more correlated with those players underperforming projections. So while there’s correlation here, we don’t necessarily know which way the arrow of causation points.
McCann’s roller-coaster month of July might be the clearest argument against the armchair psychology of declaring players unfit for big markets. Baseball remains largely a game of luck and randomness, with sample sizes never quite as big as we’d like. As clear as the “he can’t handle New York” explanation might have seemed when McCann was in his early-season slump, the real culprit was probably just bad luck. In baseball, the influence of chance trumps anything the fans or the media can throw at a player.
"It was intriguing to me to learn at a younger age to catch the ball well and make it look presentable,"
July 28, 2014
By Chris Cwik
The Seattle Mariners can't hit. By nearly every measure, both traditional and advanced, the M's rate as one of the worst offensive teams in the game. The club has scored just 401 runs this season, good for second to last in the American League. On top of that, the team's .296 wOBA and 88 wRC+, two advanced stats that measure a team's offense, rank 28th and 25th in MLB respectively.
Despite those issues, the club is in the playoff hunt, thanks to the team's pitching staff. The Mariners rank first with a 3.07 ERA, and ninth with a 3.65 FIP. While the pitching staff deserves a lot of credit for keeping the club in contention, Seattle is also carrying a secret weapon: Mike Zunino, who has emerged as the M's unsung hero due to his abilities behind the plate.
Though Zunino has been in the league for less than a full season, he's already regarded as one of the best pitch framers. For him, the realization that he could play a role in whether a pitch was called a ball or a strike came early.
"It was intriguing to me to learn at a younger age to catch the ball well and make it look presentable," Zunino explained.
Though he realized the benefits of framing pitches early, Zunino credits University of Florida coaches Kevin O'Sullivan and Brad Weitzel for working with him on his craft, and teaching him to "present every pitch to the umpire" and "make it look good for him."
Similar instruction continued after the Mariners selected Zunino with the third pick in the 2012 draft. Within the organization, Zunino credits Trent Jewett, Mike Rojas, John Stearns and Scott Steinman for helping him further develop his ability behind the plate. "Working with those guys, you get little bits and pieces from everybody and try to implement that into your receiving," he said.
The results have shown in the majors. During his rookie season, Zunino ranked eighth in the league with79 extra strikes, according to Baseball Prospectus' framing metric. He's moved up slightly during his sophomore year, stealing 89 extra strikes thus far. Zunino, however, doesn't like to think of it as stealing strikes.
"I don't think it's framing to steal every single pitch," the 23-year-old explained. "It's just to give the umpire a good, consistent look at how you're going to catch a ball throughout the game."
The key to doing that is "knowing your pitcher and what their certain pitches do," Zunino says. "Once you call a certain pitch, anticipating what that pitch is going to do and where it's going to be." This can vary based on the type of pitcher Zunino catches daily. For guys like Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, who prefer to pitch with movement low in the zone, Zunino has to "work from the ground up." Things change when Chris Young, who is notorious for working high in the zone, takes the mound. "With a guy like Chris Young, you're going to try to cap off a lot of pitches," the Florida native said. "Try to catch the top of the baseball and make everything look lower than it is."
Zunino explained that a big key behind getting a call is staying quiet behind the plate. Once he sets up for a pitch, his body stays incredibly still. The only thing that moves during the receiving process is his glove, which was highlighted by Baseball Prospectus in May.
The actual receiving of the ball plays a major role in whether he can get a pitch called a strike. "To me, it's just catching a ball clean and holding it up there," he explained. "Catching and staying under the baseball and holding it out for a brief second." In all the examples provided by Baseball Prospectus, Zunino is able to quickly pull the ball to the right location once he catches it. He does this instantaneously in some cases, and it's tough to tell how much he actually moves his mitt after catching the ball.
Putting a proper value on pitch framing is where things become difficult. There's no denying a catcher who can steal extra strikes is a good thing, but how much of an impact can it have on a player's value? There are some who believe it's worth multiple wins each season. In March, Baseball Prospectus took on the issue of pitch framing value, and concluded that in 2013 Jonathan Lucroy was worth about 2.2 WARP without his framing, and 5.8 WARP if you include his fantastic ability behind the plate. That's the difference between being Ian Desmond or Giancarlo Stanton in 2014.
That's a big jump in value, which explains why there's some skepticism over the true value of pitch framing. The focus on pitch framing is relatively new, and it hasn't been explored enough just yet. While it might play a significant role in the value of certain catchers, at what point does it make sense to devote a ton of money to an elite defensive catcher when those players have been available for peanuts in past seasons? Guys like Paul Bako and Henry Blanco, both of whom were considered strong defensive catchers, could be cheaply signed during the offseason to fill backup roles. It's unclear whether the new focus on pitch framing will lead to better compensation for those types of catchers, or if teams will continue to be able to find all-glove, no-bat options behind the plate on the cheap.
The difference between those types of players and Zunino is that there's a lot of potential in his bat, which he admits is a "work in progress" at this point; through 317 plate appearances, Zunino is batting .202/.252/.404. While those are less than optimal numbers, the Florida native has at least provided some hope for future success with his power. His 14 homers is third best among catchers with at least 200 plate appearances this year.
Considering his age, and how quickly he was promoted, struggles should have been expected. The 23-year-old played in just 96 minor-league games before he was promoted to the majors. It would be unreasonable to expect Zunino to be a finished product at this point in his career.
On top of that, catchers can take a couple of years to fully develop. Some of the best backstops in the game right now needed some time before they were finished products. Neither Jonathan Lucroy or Yadier Molina hit well in their first few seasons in the majors. It wasn't until Lucroy's third year that he posted a wRC+ over 100, and it took Molina six seasons before he did the same. Devin Mesoraco, who was considered a prospect for quite some time, didn't fully break out until his age-26 season.
That's not to say Zunino will turn into the next Lucroy or Molina. It's more of a reminder that it takes young catchers time to develop, and that Zunino is still incredibly raw. Though his numbers at the plate don't look strong now, he'll have many years to perfect his hitting approach.
Part of the reason the team can afford to be patient with Zunino is his defensive skills. Zunino is young, relatively cheap and has immense upside. While he'll eventually need to show growth at the plate, he's already providing value behind it. There's plenty of incentive for the team to just leave him behind the plate until they believe he's a finished product.
If the Mariners do make a second half push for the playoffs, the focus will surely be on the team's strong pitching staff. Though he'll likely be lost in the shuffle, Zunino's contributions shouldn't be overlooked. Despite his inexperience, the 23-year-old has already emerged as one of the best pitch framers in the league. Given his ability to change the game in any at-bat, Zunino is already playing a bigger role in the M's success than anyone realizes.
Cape League All-Star Game Showcases Solid Talent
July 28, 2014 by Aaron Fitt
BOURNE, Mass.—Most years, the Cape Cod League all-star game is all about the big arms, which typically dominate with velocity in one-inning stints in front of dozens of scouting heavyweights. Last year, scouts came away from the game grumbling about the lack of premium velocity on display.
Click on the link for the full story